Residents protest reduction in parking on Holmes Beach

Finding a parking spot on Holmes Beach isn't as easy as it once was.

"You can not park on this side or the other side, we have to obey what the law is telling us and be patient," said Manatee County resident Raquell Sommer.

During COVID-19 restrictions, the city shut down beach access parking to prevent people from going to the beach. Then, in April, the city decided to permanently remove 1,098 of the 2,405 available spots.

Police Chief William Tokajer said the decision was based on a study and feedback from residents.

"Residents are complaining about people parking in front of their driveway, in front of their mailbox, leaving trash behind. Leaving diapers behind. Using their hoses to wash off before they go back into their cars using their pools," he said.

As Manatee County continues to grow, Chief Tokajer said his residents feel the backlash, with more than 21,000 cars visiting daily in the month of May.

"This was not done in a vacuum. We had a plan. We will never have the parking that is needed for the people that come to this island. We will always have people driving around in circles because of the amount of cars coming here," said Chief Tokajer.

Not everyone agrees.

"They're perceiving us elitists and what bothers me most is when you talk to most Holmes Beach residents they’re not in favor of this," said former Holmes Beach City Commissioner Rick Hurst.

200 residents have signed a formal petition and more than 10,000 people online signed their own petition opposing the change.

Peggi Davenport and others held signs reading "Save Our Beach Parking" outside city hall before a Tuesday night commission meeting.

"If they can have their signs, I can have my signs," said Davenport.

Her family owns Duffy's Tavern. Her mom, Pat Geyer served 30 years as a Holmes Beach city commissioner and was once mayor. During that time, she helped open the spots decades ago.

"They have to think about everybody businesses, yes the residents that live here, but people are trying to make a living too," she said.

Davenport is concerned that her mom's hard work in making the island a friendly place will soon be forgotten.

"People get to come and visit and we should welcome them," she said.